Times have changed. No longer do we have so many beggars from the Cordillera in the streets of Metro Manila. But that was not the case not so long ago. Up until the end of the millennium, it was not uncommon to chance upon a group of Igorots asking pedestrians and motorists for handouts in Baguio City and Metro Manila specially during the Holiday Season. Most of them were women, most of them were aging, and most were from Mountain Province.

There are many stories about these beggars, and these stories may or may not be true. What is true is that indeed Mountain Province once had the distinction of being the source of these resourceful persons who made a livelihood of begging.

I heard from others of such a story. Whether or not the story is true in its entirety or was embossed in the telling, or whether it is altogether the fabrication of an imaginative mind, is irrelevant. If it is not true, then it shall be added to the many urban legends about the people of Mountain Province. True or not, accurate or not, the story, and others like it, just reflect the reality of what once was at a time that seems so long ago but nonetheless fairly recent.

And so it was that in the late 90s, there was such a group plying their “trade” in Quezon City.

And so it was that the Congressman of Mountain Province at that time, the late Victor Dominguez, was in a convoy of cars with his staff and some local government officials visiting the nation’s capital.

Somewhere along the long stretch of Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, Dominguez, who was in the lead car, saw such a group of women actively asking pedestrians and motorists for alms. He asked the driver to stop and the driver obliged. Of course the other cars in the convoy also stopped, and everybody was wondering why the Congressman’s car stopped.

According to the story, the Congressman told his staff to get the straw hats (silag) of the women.

Those in the other cars saw the Congressman’s bodyguard, secretary and assistant getting out of the lead car. Of course, out of concern, others in the cars following also got out.

The bodyguard, secretary and assistant approached the women on the sidewalk.

The women, probably thinking that the ones approaching them were cops, started running in different directions. The Congressman’s men run after them. Without thinking, the passengers of the other cars followed suit.

And so it was that there was these group of about five Igorot women being pursued by Igorot men in the streets of Metro Manila. Eventually, the men caught up with the women. After the pursuers explained that they were not cops, the women were placated. However, when the pursuers asked for their hats, they refused to give these, saying that it was a hot day, and they needed the hats to shield their heads and faces from the sweltering sun.

The pursuers continued to demand the hats, and the women continued to refuse to give in. After a heated and extended conversation, the assistant went back to the Congressman to report. The Congressman told him that they must get the hats at all cost, and if necessary, they should buy it from the women. The Congressman pulled out his wallet and gave the assistant some money so that they could buy the hats from the woman beggars.

After another heated and extended conversation, the women finally acceded to sell their hats to their pursuers. So, hats in hand, the group got back to their cars and proceeded on their way.

Rumor has it that the price that the Congressman paid for the used hats was more than twice the price of new straw hats, but still the Congressman thought it money well spent. Rumor has it further that the Congressman would have been willing to pay more, just so the beggar-women would sell the hats.

Those in the convoy laughed themselves hoarse talking about the spectacle of aging Igorot women being pursued by burly Igorot men in the streets of Quezon City. It was even more hilarious since the women, and most of the pursuing men, were ignorant of the reasons for the chase. It was a funny moment, but all agreed that it was worth it, and the Congressman was justified in purchasing the precious hats at such an extravagant cost.

What made the hats so special?

Painted in bright red on the wide brim were the words “GAWIS AY MOUNTAIN PROVINCE.”


Churches, as the title says.
A few at this time, but should be added to as long as cameras continue to be clicked.

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Trinity Church, Clarendon Street, Boston, MA

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Church of the Heavenly Rest—New York City

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St. Joseph Church, Waterville, WA

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Mother Church, the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts

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Old South Church, Boston, MA

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Elbe Evangelical Lutheran Church, Elbe, WA

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Central Lutheran Church, Morton, WA

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Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church
Rider Ave, Patchogue, NY ‎

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United Methodist Church of Patchogue, Patchogue, NY

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United Methodist Church of Patchogue, Patchogue, NY

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Congregational Church, Patchogue, NY

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Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Amsterdam Ave., New York

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The inside of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York

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Church of the Heavenly Rest—New York City

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St. Joseph Church, Waterville, WA

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Elbe Evangelical Lutheran Church, Elbe, WA


Pictures of bridges.

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Central Park

Deception Pass, Washington, bridge
Deception Pass, between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, Washington

Deception Pass, Washington, bridge
Deception Pass, between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, Washington

Hartman Bridge, Baytown, Texas

Hartman Bridge, Baytown, Texas

Hartman Bridge, Baytown, Texas

Hartman Bridge, Baytown, Texas

Central Park
Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Pedestrian Overpass, New York

Pedestrian Overpass, New York

Bridge seen from Prudential Tower, Boston, MA

Bridge seen from Prudential Tower, Boston, MA

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, Boston, MA

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, Boston, MA

Bridge in Boston common

Bridge in Boston common

Bridge in Boston Common

Bridge in Boston Common

George Washington Bridge, Seattle, WA

George Washington Bridge, Seattle, WA

Bridge in Seattle, WA

Bridge in Seattle, WA

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, Boston, MA

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, Boston, MA

Bridge near Wild Horses Monument, Washington State

Bridge near Wild Horses Monument, Washington State

Bridge at Kent Falls, Connecticut

Bridge at Kent Falls, Connecticut

Bridge at Kent Falls, Connecticut

Bridge at Kent Falls, Connecticut

Bridge at Kent Falls, Connecticut

Bridge at Kent Falls, Connecticut

Bulls Bridge, Kent, CT

Bulls Bridge, Kent, CT

Bridge along Snohomish Mountain Loop Highway, WA

Bridge along Snohomish Mountain Loop Highway, WA

New Jersey-New York bridge

New Jersey-New York bridge

Old North Bridge, Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA

Old North Bridge, Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA

Old North Bridge, Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA

Old North Bridge, Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA

Old North Bridge, Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA

Old North Bridge, Minuteman National Park, Concord, MA

A ship passes by the Bay Bridge, San Francisco, CA

A ship passes by the Bay Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

Drawbridge near Ballard Locks, WA

Drawbridge near Ballard Locks, WA


in Lynnwood, WA

in Lynnwood, WA

at Marshall Park, Seattle, WA

at Marshall Park, Seattle, WA

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in Central Park

at a bus stop in Lynnwood, WA

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at Brackett’s Landing, Edmonds, WA

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in Central Park, NY, NY

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at Liberty Island Park

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at Franklin Park Zoo, Boston, MA

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at Kitsap Forest Theater, Bremerton Is., WA

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at Mt. Rainier National Park.

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In Patchogue, NY

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in New Jersey

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in Seaworld, San Antonio, TX

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in Central Park

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in Central Park

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in Central Park

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along Freedom Trail, Boston, MA

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in Franklin Park Zoo, boston, MA

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at Grand Coulle Dam, WA

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in Kitsap Forest, Bremerton, WA

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in Mt. Rainier National Park

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in Mt. Rainier National Park

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in Mt. Rainier National Park

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at Picnic Grounds, Paradise, Mt. Rainier National park

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at Picnic Grounds, Mt. Rainier National Park

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at Marshall Park, Seattle, WA

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at Green Lake Park, Seattle, WA

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somewhere in or near Lynnwood, WA

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at Green Lake Park, Seattle, WA


Spirited Thoughts

A pig in a penby Gary Pekas

My generation is that generation that had the privilege of living at a time when our communities did not have outhouses, much less toilet bowls in our homes. When one had to defecate, one did it more or less in the open.

In Sagada, pigs were kept in pits lined with stone walls. Part of the pit was cobbled with stones, and relatively dry. Half of it was however laid bare and a little deeper, and it was there where the pig manure was gathered. All varieties of waste were put into this part of the pit, and allowed to compost along with the manure.

Yearly, the compost was taken out and used to fertilize the fields. It was a workable and efficient waste disposal system, and since waste at the time was mostly organic material, our communities did not have a problem of accumulating waste.

But…

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Close to the end of a five-hour road trip from Baguio to Bontoc, the traveler gets a chance to view the winding waters of the Chico River in Sabangan, with rice fields close to the valley floor and verdant forests on the upper slopes of the mountains

Closer to Bontoc, the road winds closer to the valley floor, allowing the traveler to see the river up close.

The river is calm and clear at times, but during the rainy season may be muddied from soil and debris from upstream.

At the edge of the central village of Bontoc, The Heritage coffee shop gives the traveler a respite, with the quaint backdrop of rice terraces and the river.

The Americans blasted a road tunnel through the mountain, rarely used now as the paved road goes around it.

A landslide blocks the road, but is partially cleared to allow vehicles to pass.

Bontoc and the other communities in the province are agricultural. Here we see rice paddies and camote fields.

In the latter part of the last century, some Bontoc people planted non-traditional crops, like coconuts, seen here.

Depending on the time of the rice agricultural cycle, the traveler may see rice paddies green with growing plants, or golden with ripening grain, or freshly plowed for planting, like in this picture.

The rice paddies are plowed for planting, and the asymmetric shapes of the fields add to the beauty of the scenery.

Carabaos are used for plowing, if available. The paddy in front shows a field not yet plowed, and the paddy on the right has already been planted with rice seedlings.

With an “umbrella hat” to protect herself from the heat of the sun, this woman plants rice. Planting rice is a communal effort, an activity that maximizes the people’s mutual help systems.

More freshly plowed fields.

Stopping to pose for a picture, this woman is on her way to work on the fields.

The newly planted rice seedlings benefit from the water brought by the irrigation canal. Often coming from kilometers away far upstream, some of these canals have already been cemented.

Rice seeds are first sown in paddies like this, and then “harvested” to be replanted, like what these folk are doing.

In the Bontoc municipal center is Lanao village, nestled in rice fields along the Chico River

Another shot of Lanao, Bontoc. Beyond the farther houses is the river.

Foot bridges allow folks to get to the forest hunting grounds and fields on the other side of the river.

Further downstream, the river continues on to Kalinga

A bird’s eye view of central Bontoc

The Chico River flows past Bontoc, to Kalinga, through deep valleys and canyons, where white water rafting is popular during the rainy season when the water is stronger.

The road to Kalinga winds along the slopes of the mountains. the roads have recently been paved for the most part, deducting from the more rustic thrill of dusty dirt roads that were for a long time the way they were.

In early April every year since the past decade, Bontoc hosts the Lang-ay Festival, where the province’s indigenous people congregate to showcase their dances, songs, attire, and other cultural expressions.

These women proudly show their unique tapis, or wraparound skirts. On the ground are bundles of rice stalks on woven baskets, part of their props for the parade during the Lang-ay.

These men, with turbans and g-strings, play the gongs to provide music for the parade, as the ladies walk beside them.

These young folk showcase their indigenous attire, stating their uniqueness and yet their likeness with the other indigenous people of the province.

With boys playing the gongs, these girls dance along during the Lang-ay parade.

One attraction for visitors of Bontoc is its museum, where one may see different cultural artifacts and photographs.

The Bontoc museum has a traditional pigpen dug from the ground, where this pig is found.

Around September, Bontoc also holds another festival, the Am-among, where different villages of the municipality show us the variety and similarity of their indigenous communities.

Using a shield to shade himself from the sun, this young warrior poses with these ladies for a picture

Bright shirts are now part of regular garb, though prior to these ready-made creations, tops were rare clothing for the people.

Carrying woven farming tools and baskets filled with food, Am-among paraders try to encapsulate their culture.

Theater and symbolic representations are not uncommon during these festivals, as the community people portray their existence in a capsule.

Carrying plowing tools, these women embody the hardiness and industry of the Bontoc people.

********* some photos are by Patrick Mcdonough, who like me married into the Bontoc community.

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There are so many things in life that I am blessed with, and one of these is to have a very good friend in Patrick McDonough, former Peace Corps Volunteer in Bontoc, Mountain Province, Philippines and currently of San Diego, California. It was in Bontoc where he met his wife, Marjorie, a resounding punctuation to his love of the place and its people. Marjorie’s sister, Beverly, happens to be my wife, and so, Patrick and I became part of the same extended family.
It so happened that last April, Patrick and Marjorie decided to come home to the Philippines. Part of their itinerary was a visit to Palawan, and Patrick wanted us to go with them. Hesitant to add to my growing debt of gratitude, I initially declined Patrick’s magnanimity. I had to give in, however, when he pointed out that all he needed me for was as a drinking buddy and for inane conversation, two things that I am really good at.
Palawan did not have a choice. It was either I joined them or the trip would have been called off.
Our destination was El Nido, a scenic place that boasts of prime snorkeling sites and postcard tropical scenery. We certainly were not disappointed, as we took hundreds of pictures of the beautiful white sand beaches all over the place and the wondrous sunsets at each end of the day.

We would have preferred to stay a beachfront hotel, but the first ones we inquired in were rather pricey, considering that we were such a large group. So we settled for a hotel about a hundred meters from the beach, a hotel still under construction, the Big Creek Mansion.

The hotel has a friendly staff, and it was they who helped us save on meals. For a large group, the cost of each meal was getting prohibitive, so we asked the hotel staff that since they were not yet serving meals other than breakfast, perhaps they could cook lunch and dinner for us for a minimal fee. They agreed, so then we had to go to the local market to buy the ingredients for many sumptous meals of seafood, grilled, boiled or saucy delicacies.

The market sold lots of fish, of so many kinds, including coral feeders that in one of our not-so-inane discussions, we wondered whether how much the corals and the reefs themselves were damaged just so we could get something to eat.

On our second day in El Nido, Patrick was determined to pursue one of his passions, fishing. He purposefully brought with him from the states one of his old poles and whole set of lures that he wanted to test. He wanted to catch a few fish for dinner later in the day, as well as to once again enjoy the thrill of sharing in nature’s bounty.

So he and I went to a beach a distance from the center of El Nido. To get to this beach, we had to walk  about 300 meters from the road along a motorcycle trail, through endemic flora that piqued our   interest, though we had to forgo this passion. We also passed through a grove of coconut trees, and we had the fortune of seeing a squirrel that the locals said fed on coconuts, puncturing the husk and shell with its long front teeth and sucking the soft meat and milk inside. We saw the squirrel jump from tree to tree, a phenomenon that added to our fascination.

On the beach, there were several resorts that offered room and board, at a more reasonable price than those of the beachfront hotels in the center of the town. Our company however opted not to transfer, ruing the hassle of packing and unpacking again, as well as having to lug our baggage to the new site.

Along this beach were several fishing boats, and for a nominal fee we rented a small outrigger so we could go fishing. The boat was really small, but we only learned that it was too small for two persons later when we were out at sea.

There was a small island nearby, and in the water between this small island and the main island of Palawan where we were, was shallow rocky bottom filled with coral formations, most of which were bereft of the tiny animals that once lived in them. It was heartening to see that some of these formations were still alive with corals, and the fishes that hid in the formations was a heartening sight, promising a nice fishing experience.

Indeed, a few casts of the line hooked some lapulapu, though we deemed the fish too small for dinner so we threw them back into the water. We planned to catch bigger ones so we rowed further out to sea, with the intention of going to the other side of the island.

As we were rowing, we saw several fish jumping out of the water, an indication that a predator was after them. Shortly thereafter, we saw a fish jumping and skimming over the surface of the water, followed by a barracuda jumping and skimming after it. The sight itself was exhilarating, and we would have been content with it, only there was a fishing pole with us, and we intended to use it.

Further out to sea, Patrick cast the line several times, getting no bite. We settled in for a long morning, casting our makeshift anchor and repeatedly casting the line. Finally, a bite. When Patrick reeled it in, it was a barracuda a little over two feet long. Patrick said that we were lucky that the fish did not bite through the line.

Anyway we were reveling in the catch, and Patrick was again casting the line. I was excitedly fidgeting around getting our camera and then trying to get a good angle for a picture. In the meantime we did not notice a motorized boat passing by, whose wake was just reaching our small boat. Because of the confluence of these circumstances we suddenly found ourselves in the water with the boat overturned and everything wet.

After righting the boat, Patrick snorkeled around looking for our gear. Luckily it was shallow water of about ten feet. While Patrick was swimming around, I bailed the water out of the boat. After everything was found, and the water in the boat back in the sea where it belonged, we tried to get back on the boat, but, for the second time, the boat flipped over.

After we went through the recovery process and bailing out again, we decided to go closer to the smaller island’s shore before we tried getting back on the boat. We did get back on the boat eventually, though the humor of the entire exercise was getting to us, as we were laughing all the while.

Needless to say, the barracuda got away, and we did not even have a picture to show for it. Later on, as we were relating the story to the company, we could not blame them if they thought it another fish story.

The experience was invigorating, and except for the camera and a cellphone that ceased to function, was a funny and happy one.

Afterwards I thanked Patrick for inviting me on the trip, and for giving me one of the best days of the rest of my life.

Little did I know that the next day would equal the experience as to worthiness of remembrance.

It was the day that we scheduled for snorkeling, something that never before have I tried. Guides suggested that we go several of the small islands near El Nido, but we opted to go to just two of the best snorkeling sites, and we were not disappointed.

Going to the islands provided us with stunning vistas of the sea and the main island, as well as the islands we passed by.

The two snorkeling sites were indeed prime spots, giving us the opportunity to see so many varieties of fish and corals and other marine life concentrated in a small area. It was unfortunate that we did not have an underwater camera with us so we could have taken pictures. Despite the lack of photographic record of the underwater experience, we enjoyed every minute of snorkeling, tirelessly floating and swimming around as we basked in the majesty of nature.

We had our lunch on what the locals named Helicopter Island, named so because it looked like a Huey without rotors from afar. It also boasts of prime snorkeling, with the fish found just a few meters from the shore.

The snorkeling experience gave me another best day of the rest of my life, and Patrick must have thought me mushy and overly sentimental for thanking him again and again for the memorable day.

Indeed the whole experience of Palawan, the beaches, the marine life, the people, the land, and the company will always count as memorable. Despite Patrick’s being embarrassed with my eternal gratitude, I thank him and Marjorie for it.

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